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Ink Illustration Techniques: My Top Tips for Working in Ink

Updated: Apr 2

Today, I wanted to talk about my ink illustration techniques and give you my top 5 tips for a beginner looking to work with ink.


Contents

When I first started as an illustrator, I worked almost exclusively in ink. It's a painful process, liable to go horrendously wrong at any given moment, but I love it. Here are my top 5 tips for working with ink.


Colour ink drawings of British garden birds
British Garden Birds - An Ongoing Personal Project

FIND THE RIGHT NIB


I looked high and low for a nib that glided along the page, created really thick lines when I wanted them, and lovely thin lines when I needed to be delicate. As I also work in calligraphy, I wanted something that could switch between the two.


I couldn't find it, until I visited Judy Broad for a calligraphy workshop and she gave us all an oblique pen holder (an oblique pen has a nib that is offset from centre) and a Nikko G nib. I was in love.


The right nib makes it so much easier to create and find your style. I highly recommend buying a few different nibs, perhaps a nib starter set and trying them all out: find what works for you. If that's not for you, you can't go wrong with a Nikko G, which is great for beginners working in ink.


EXPERIMENT WITH INKS


This is something I did not do. I cruised straight ahead with a Winsor & Newton starter box set from Cass Art. I wish I'd taken the time to look at a few different inks and see how I liked them.


I liked the Winsor & Newton inks, they're good and quite liquid, they flow easily, but then I was stuck with a whole set of them for ages - I couldn't try any other inks!


Then I made the same mistake again. And I bought a whole set of Dr Ph Martins Bombay India Inks. These inks are more intense than Winsor and Newton, but they dry super quickly onto your nib, clogging it up really fast. Not what you want ideally. They mix nicely with water and give a slightly shiny appearance once the ink is dry.


But again, I wish I'd just bought a few. I also have a gorgeous handmade Oak Gall Ink from Naomi Hannam of Creativeroots.earth, which dries to a browny-black, a beautiful sepia, that is well worth investing in.


HOW TO RESCUE A BLOT


Ink blots. Trust me, it'll blot just to spite you. Take my advice: keep pieces of tissue on hand and, if your ink blots:

  1. Acting quickly, take a corner of that tissue and dip it into the blot (try not to touch the paper). It'll soak up most of the colour and water instantly

  2. Then put a clean bit of tissue directly down onto the blot (straight down, press and don't rub!), that should take off most of the rest of it.

  3. Anything that's left can probably be covered up with a bit of bleed-proof white ink.


A black and white ink sketch of a snow leopard, with a painting of mountains and stars behind it
My drawing of a snow leopard, originally created in ink

EXPERIMENT WITH YOUR PEN


Press harder, press softer, turn it on one side, reverse it, turn it on the other side, scribble with it. Whatever. There is no right way as far as I'm concerned and all of these tactics can create different lines that might just be perfect for what you're working on.


PRACTICE


Ink is a temperamental, unforgiving, beautiful, vibrant medium. I love it. It's totally worth the time and effort you put in. I highly suggest you check out a workshop, perhaps one of Judy Broad's.


Or you might want to practice at home, in which case I highly recommend The Postman's Knock. On this website, you can find free worksheets, tips on ink, calligraphy and drawing in ink, video courses, examples of creative uses of calligraphy and way more. I've relied on this website time and time again, and I hope you find it useful too!


Want to know more? Have a read of this blog, which discusses using fountain pens for your work.


As always, thanks for reading!

Nx

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